Gateway girls soccer aims to peak early in season

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Thursday, September 10, 2020 | 10:17 PM


The Gateway girls soccer team came within penalty kicks of ousting No. 2 Plum in the first round of last year’s WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

But the Mustangs prevailed 2-1, dealing the Gators a heartbreaking end to their season. Coach Kelly Bender had a more optimistic tone when talking about the playoff result.

“The game against Plum was disappointing because we played well and thought we had a great chance to win, but it was also super because we showed our full potential,” said Bender, who saw her team win four of five Section 1 matches down the stretch, including a key victory over Franklin Regional, to clinch a spot in the postseason.

“We lost a good number of seniors, but our team has not skipped a beat. They are playing well together and are ready to compete. Their preparation both during the summer and the preseason has us set to peak earlier in the season which is something that we have struggled with in the past.”

The Gators, 8-10-1 overall last year, got the chance to assess where they are at this point in preseason preparation with a scrimmage Sept. 8 against Woodland Hills. As with any scrimmage, Bender said she saw some good things and also some things her team can continue to work on.

Team leadership takes shape with the help of a quartet of seniors: Joelle Jenkins (defense), Nadia Thomas (midfield), Anna Segar (midfield) and Ava Weiss (goalkeeper).

“We’re very excited. We have a younger team this year but we’ve been growing together and are pretty optimistic about our chances,” said Jenkins, a multi-year starter.

“We were concerned if we were going to have a season, but things worked out, and we’ve been working hard so we are ready to play.”

Weiss takes over in goal for the graduated Maddy Neundorfer, a 2019 all-state selection who now is a member of the women’s soccer team at Duquesne.

“I am really excited about the opportunity to play varsity goalie,” said Weiss, who has battled back from two ACL knee injuries.

“I know I have really big gloves to fill. Maddy is a huge inspiration and somebody to look up to. I’ve reached out to her a couple of times in the preseason to get her viewpoints on some things.”

Bender said she is excited to see what Weiss will be able to do in net for the Gators.

“She has already proven herself several times in the preseason,” Bender said.

Jenna Shuman, a junior midfielder, also has battled back from knee injury issues. Bender said she came on strong at the end of last year and is ready to make a bigger impact this fall.

Junior forward Addy Green (eight goals, three assists) and sophomore forward Daniella Garner (five goals, two assists) are back to pace the offense. Garner scored the second-half equalizer in the playoff game against Plum.

Also returning to the team this season are junior Kira Pavlik (midfield) and sophomores Emily Mannion (defense), Anna Reynolds (defense) and Madi Jesih (midfield).

“Not only do we have strength throughout the field at every position, but we have players who will be on the bench that can come out and make an immediate impact,” Bender said.

Gateway is back in Section 1 and will play two games against section foes Franklin Regional, Armstrong, Hampton, Indiana, Kiski Area and Knoch.

Mars, last year’s section champion, has moved over to Section 4. Hampton, Kiski Area and Franklin Regional also represented the section in last year’s WPIAL Class AAA tournament.

“The section certainly will be competitive for the top spots, based on what we have and what the other teams have,” Bender said. “I think there is a lot of good soccer to be played in the section.”

Gateway was scheduled to open its season Monday with a nonsection game at Penn Hills. The team was to honor its four seniors during a ceremony before Tuesday’s home opener against Knoch.

Both games were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

“Our senior class has led this team well so far,” Bender said. “They have set the tone by setting a high standard to challenge their teammates.”

The Gators are back home Saturday for an 11 a.m. game against Penn-Trafford.

“One of our team goals this season is to stay present and positive,” Bender said. “I think this season will be a mental game for every team. Our goal is to live in each moment and give it everything we have, knowing that the season could end any day.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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